The outdoors is a veritable playground at any time of day, but it gets harder to enjoy as soon as the sun sets. That rugged backcountry terrain just isn’t the safest to explore without good visibility, which is why you need a reliable light source if you want to keep the adventure going.
While flashlights have long been the staple illumination tool for the outdoors, headlamps have increasingly become more popular in recent years. Being able to illuminate your path while freeing up both hands is not just convenient, after all, but could be lifesaving in treacherous conditions. Aside from giving you full command over both hands, headlamps typically provide a wider and more consistent beam of light that many just find indispensable, whether they’re finding their way through a wooded path, cleaning up the campsite, or fixing up damaged equipment at night. Plus, having a light strapped to your head definitely makes you look more outdoorsy.
These are the best headlamps to bring during your backcountry adventures.
Energizer Vision Ultra HD Rechargeable Headlamp
This headlamp from Energizer offers great value, delivering up to 400 lumens in brightness in a rugged housing that’s IPX4 water-resistant and withstands drops up to 3.3 feet. It has seven lighting modes, namely high, low, wide, wide-low, red night vision, green night vision, and strobe, making it exceptionally useful during nighttime in the backcountry, while the thin corded straps wear very comfortably, albeit with the occasional bounce when you make sudden moves (very tolerable, though). Being from Energizer, it naturally supports AA batteries, although it also comes with a rechargeable module that lets you juice up via USB, making it very versatile when it comes to power options – something that can come handy when you get stranded away from camp after dark.
Biolite Headlamp 330
Biolite’s headlamps have a clever design that creates separate enclosures for the LEDs and the battery, with the former sitting out front and the latter in the back. This makes it perfectly balanced, so much so that the darn thing doesn’t even bounce when you run, ensuring it wears comfortably while sitting in place the whole time. While the 330-lumen brightness is a fraction of other offerings out there (including Biolite’s own high-illumination headlamps), we’ve found this model, in particular, to be bright enough for all-around utility in the outdoors while being exceptionally light. Features include 3.5 hours of runtime on high, 40 hours on low, and a moisture-wicking fabric that keeps your head cool and dry.
Fenix HM50R V2
With an IP68 waterproof rating, this headlamp can withstand being submerged in water, making it ideal for taking to the outdoors in wet conditions. It performs well in the cold, too, making for a great headlamp choice during winter camping and alpine climbing sessions. The LED housing can be easily slid out from its mount, allowing you to use it as a very small handheld flashlight, although it also has a clip that makes it possible to secure the light to the edge of your pocket or belt for alternative mounting options. Features include a maximum brightness of 700 lumens, a maximum beam throw of 125 yards, a large control button on the side (you can easily press it with gloves on), four brightness levels, and two power options (USB-rechargeable battery and CR123A batteries).
Black Diamond Spot 400-R
This recently updated model delivers 400 lumens of brightness in a compact package that weighs just 2.6 ounces, ensuring you barely feel it, whether you have it strapped on your head or squeezed into a pocket on your pack. It’s not the brightest or the most powerful headlamp in the category, but it arguably brings the perfect balance of function, durability, comfort, and price. There’s a proximity mode that disperses the light in a wide beam and a distance mode that maximizes the throw, as well as a dimming function that lets you quickly adjust the brightness, so you can better manage charge on the 1,500mAh rechargeable battery. Features include red night vision with dimming, a digital lock mode, memory for brightness setting, IP67 waterproof construction, and a recycled elastic headband made from Repreve fiber.
Biolite Headlamp 750
Despite delivering a powerful 750 lumens, this headlamp remains incredibly comfortable, with the front-and-rear electronic housings and wide headband distributing weight very evenly, such that the whole thing stays in place without creating any pressure points. Suffice to say, this is the kind of headlamp you can keep on for extended periods. Most headlamps work by starting out on maximum brightness, then automatically dim gradually as your eyes adjust to the light, allowing it to save on power to maximize battery life. This lamp works the same way, except there’s a “constant mode” that keeps the brightness on the exact setting you made to ensure maximum visibility at all times. Sure, it’s going to eat up the battery life, but it’s very handy for those times you don’t want the light dimming at any point. Do note, the constant mode doesn’t work on the full 750 lumens. Instead, the device only puts out 750 lumens in 30-second bursts before switching back down to 500 lumens, which, we guess, is a way to both manage power and prevent overheating.
It has a number of light modes that, we’ll admit, can get confusing at the start, especially with just a single control button on the front-mounted module. You do get the hang of it after a while, though, at which point you’ll probably appreciate the amount of control it puts on your fingertips. It can run up to seven hours on high, two hours in maximum constant mode, and up to 150 hours on low.
Petzl Actik Core
This headlamp packs 600 lumens, which it can beam out to distances of up to 377 feet. That’s one powerful headlamp. What makes the Actik Core really special, though, is its versatile power source, as it comes with a rechargeable battery you can charge via USB while also supporting AAAs. That means, you can charge the headlamp while at camp, then pack some AAAs in your hip pack when going on a long hike to make sure you never run out of juice at an inopportune time. It’s very handy.
The headlamp can be tilted up or down, while offering two beam settings (wide and mixed), allowing you to use it in a variety of ways. We also like the fact that it can retain 50 percent of its brightness halfway through the burn time, so you don’t get the drastic reduction in light when you use it for extended periods. Other features include a strobe mode, a red night vision, and a lock function that helps you prevent accidentally switching on the power.
While we’re not fans of the premium pricing, we’re definitely fans of the premium quality of this headlamp, which puts a whopping 1,000 lumens on tap to give you maximum illumination in the wild. It’s equipped with Ledlenser’s Advanced Focus System, which delivers exceptionally bright and even illumination, while automatically dimming and increasing brightness on its own as needed (that’s right, this comes with more complex programming than your typical headlamp). You can even program the headlamp with various settings, timers, and intervals using the companion app. Features include four lighting colors (white, red, green, and blue), a bezel knob that lets you narrow and widen the beam, an aluminum heatsink that keeps it from overheating, and a battery rated to last up to 100 hours on low setting. Do note, this requires the outfit’s magnetic charging cord, as it won’t work with other cords, which is admittedly annoying.